'Asteroid City' Review
June 12, 2023
Asteroid City premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival. Focus Features will release it in theaters on June 13.
By far the strangest movie in his eclectic filmography, Asteroid City is Wes Anderson’s return to America in over a decade, having spent time in fictional Eastern Europe for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Japan for Isle of Dogs, and well… France for The French Dispatch. The fanciful writer/director takes us into the scenic deserts of the 1950s American southwest, specifically the titular sleepy tourist town that serves as the meeting point for all of the eccentric characters.
The half-built town, complete with the stereotypical bar-stool diner and motel, is the destination for those attending the annual Junior Stargazer / Space Cadet convention. It’s a place where the best, brightest, and most awkward kids in America show off their new inventions, including a jetpack, raygun, and overhead projector for the moon, which, in one of many hilarious throwaway lines, is said to have huge potential in the future of interstellar advertising.
Arriving in a putter under the beaming sun is Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), a war photographer with a genius son and young triplet girls. This event is only a brief stop on his way to see his father-in-law (Tom Hanks, proving as always to be a wonderful addition to any cast), who’s the only other person that knows of Augie’s wife’s recent demise.
Also in attendance is a group of other precocious children and their host of parents (Scarlett Johannson, Liev Schreiber, Steve Park, Hope Davis, etc.) Eventually, this event designed to look up at the stars comes in contact with something from there, which reshapes how our characters interact with each other and themselves.
As I said in the opening sentence, this is Anderson’s weirdest movie to date, always keeping your eyebrow in a raised position. To avoid spoiling events beyond what is shown in the trailer, I’ll only mention that Anderson’s screenplay (written in conjunction with his usual partner Roman Coppola) emulates a certain Christopher Nolan movie that has to do with dreams. How else are you going to be able to fit in all the names within this all-star cast, including regular players Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Jeffrey Wright, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum?
The term “this is the most Wes Anderson movie Wes Anderon has ever made” has been used to describe nearly every new entry in his filmography. That cycle doesn’t stop with Asteroid City, as the traits you’ve come to love (or hate) are all here: symmetrical framing, varying aspect ratios, color and black & white cinematography, and steady camera movements. Anderson’s usual designer Adam Stockhausen once again creates a doll-house world filled with too many sights and sounds to be absorbed in one viewing.
Sure, there may now be umpteen TikTok and A.I. generated videos replicating Anderon’s distinct style, but all of them contain just the window dressing of a Wes Anderson movie, and not the emotion. Just as his box of tricks has constantly evolved, so has Anderson’s ability to find the heart in his richly defined characters. While on their methodically placed tracks, each character veers off in different directions, exploring the fear of death, finding connections in a barren land, cutting through the messiness of life, and paying homage to those kitschy B-movies you grew up watching late at night on the public access channel.
At this point in his filmography, you’ve probably made up your mind about Wes Anderson. I’m somewhat of an apologist, with those instantly recognizable production qualities and whimsical tones being music to my ears (and eyes). Asteroid City is another healthy dose of what I’m come to love, with the bonus of seeing an auteur continue to find new ways to channel what they do best.